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FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.

Below is my blog post “FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

The maker of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread loved by many Americans, wants a smaller serving size to be listed on its nutrition labels.

Ferrero, Nutella’s parent company, says that a smaller serving size will reflect how consumers currently use the product, and has been petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify the spread.

Ferrero claims that nowadays Nutella is eaten in smaller amounts as a spread on toast instead of as a topping on ice cream or a filler in cupcakes.

According to CNN, the company surveyed over 700 mothers and claims that 60% of consumers now eat Nutella on bread, up from 8% back in 1991. And, only 2% of consumers today use Nutella on ice cream, down from 27% back in 1991.

Nutella is currently categorized as a dessert topping, with a serving size of two tablespoons. Instead, Ferrero wants the sweet spread to be classified in the jam and honey category.

Why this request? They can list a smaller serving size of one tablespoon—instead of two tablespoons—on its jars.

A smaller serving size on the food label means fewer calories and less sugar. This may give consumers the perception that Nutella is a healthier spread and may influence shopper’s decisions to buy more of it.

One tablespoon or two?

Now FDA may consider Nutella’s claims, but only if Americans agree. So the agency is now asking Nutella lovers how much they eat at a time.

Two tablespoons of Nutella contain 200 calories. The two tablespoon serving size originated in the 1990s, when the spread was used more as a dessert topping on ice cream.

As a nutritionist and portion size researcher, I’ve observed that most people rarely pay close attention to their portion and tend to underestimate how much they really eat. And they will probably spread a lot more than one tablespoon of Nutella on a slice of bread.

Secondly, even if people do spread Nutella on toast, many people use it more like a nut butter (which has a two tablespoon serving size) than as a honey or jam.

The FDA is now collecting comments about how much consumers are eating in a sitting.

Clearly, Ferrero is worried that the required two tablespoon serving size makes its product look unhealthy when compared to honey or jam.

I’ve written about food label serving sizes extensively, and have discussed how after 20 years, food labels are getting a makeover. Many standard serving sizes—known as reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs)—will be increasing to reflect how much Americans typically eat. (We eat lots more now than we used to eat.)

The serving size for ice cream, soda, and other favorites will soon be increasing to reflect our changing eating habits.

Interestingly, research on consumer perceptions of larger federal serving sizes is mixed. On the one hand, if consumers see a bigger serving size on a package label, they will be more mindful. Especially after seeing a larger calorie count. On the other hand, however, research found that after seeing a larger serving size on the food label, many consumers will view that larger serving size as a recommendation to eat more.

As I’ve written, FDA serving sizes are not meant to be recommendations for how much we should eat. Instead, they are meant to reflect how much we typically eat.

Nonetheless, serving sizes do influence consumers’ decisions and the burning question is: How will consumers view a smaller serving size on a food label of Nutella?

So FDA wants to know how you eat Nutella and how much do you typically eat?
You can weigh in here.

Measuring spoons anyone?!

My guess would be that if we pulled out our measuring spoons, most of us would find that we eat much more than one tablespoon.

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FDA wants to know what you consider a “healthy” food product.

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: FDA wants to know what you consider a ‘healthy” food product.

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What do you consider a healthy food product?

As a nutritionist, what comes to my mind are whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish. Few people would debate such foods as being healthy and nutritious.

What gets tricky is how the definition pertains to many foods with package labels that are allowed to make claims such as “healthy,” “low in fat” or “good source of.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it plans to redefine what “healthy” means on packaged food labels.

For decades, FDA had defined a product as “healthy” if it met certain criteria such as low-fat, low saturated fat and cholesterol, relatively low in sodium, and contained at least 10% of the daily value (DV) for vitamins A or C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber.

Certain packaged food products clearly would not qualify as “healthy.” Several years ago, for example, I served as the nutrition expert for a legal case against the manufacturer of an unhealthy food product which used the “healthy” claim on its package label but its product clearly was not healthy.

Dietary advice has evolved over the years and the definition of “healthy” on a package label has gotten tricky. If a food product contains mostly nuts or avocados, for example, it will not qualify as “healthy” because it will not be low in fat (even though the type of fat is healthy). Yet a fat-free chocolate pudding or a sugary cereal such as Frosted Flakes may, indeed, meet the “healthy” definition.

This issue has played out recently.

Back in 2015, the manufacturer of a fruit and nut bar received a warning letter from FDA that they were not allowed to label their product as “healthy.” After petitioning the FDA, stating that their product contained fats, the FDA reversed its course allowing the company to continue to use the “healthy” claim on its label.

Now, FDA will be working to redefine what the “healthy” claim on a package label should mean.

FDA states:

Redefining “healthy” is part of an overall plan to provide consumers with information and tools to enable them to easily and quickly make food choices consistent with public health recommendations and to encourage the development of healthier foods by the industry….

…Public health recommendations for various nutrients have evolved, as reflected by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the updated Nutrition Facts label. For example, healthy dietary patterns now focus on food groups, the type of fat rather than the total amount of fat consumed and now address added sugars in the diet. Also, the nutrients of public health concern that consumers aren’t getting enough of have changed.

Effective immediately, FDA will allow manufacturers to use the “healthy” claim for the following products that: 1) are not low in total fat, but have a fat profile makeup of predominantly mono and polyunsaturated fats; or
(2) contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value (DV) per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) of potassium or vitamin D.

As a nutritionist advising clients and specializing in portion control, claims on food labels can often be misinterpreted. For example, just because a food product is labeled healthy or low in fat, for example, does not mean that you can eat as much as you want. And more is not usually better—it simply means you will be taking in more calories.

And, healthy foods such as whole fruits and vegetables which do not bear package labels are among the “healthiest” foods you can buy.

Nonetheless, I do feel that the “healthy” definition is outdated and does need to be revised in light of current nutrition advice.

FDA now wants to know what you think. Some points FDA wants stakeholders to consider:

    • What types of food should be allowed to bear the term ‘’healthy?”
  • What are the public health benefits of defining the term “healthy”?
  • Is “healthy” the best term to characterize foods that should be encouraged to build healthy dietary practices or patterns?
  • What other words or terms might be more appropriate (e.g., “nutritious”)?
  • What nutrient criteria should be considered for the definition of the term “healthy?”

You can weigh in here.

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Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Will new food labels encourage us to eat…more?!

You can also read it HERE.

In February 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with Michelle Obama announced an overhaul to the nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods. Among the proposed changes includes updating the serving sizes.

As FDA states, “These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

The food labels have not been revised in over 20 years, and the current serving sizes are based on portions typically consumed in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller–often much smaller–than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and research articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

In a previous piece I wrote for Huffington Post, while I commended the FDA for using more realistic serving sizes, I also offered a note of caution: in particular, that FDA is not telling consumers to actually eat more.

“For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories. This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat…. It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.”

While there are clearly benefits to FDA requiring that manufacturers use more realistic serving sizes, a new study, published in the journal Appetite, addresses some potential problems with larger serving sizes. The study explores how consumers interpret the new serving sizes, and how they affect the amount of food they would serve themselves.

In one of several experiments, the researchers showed subjects two different labels for mini chocolate chip cookies–the current label which states 3 cookies as a serving and the proposed new label which lists 6 cookies as a serving. The subjects exposed to the proposed label served themselves significantly more cookies than those exposed to the current label.

Results of all four experiments found that people misinterpret serving size information. The majority of subjects believe that the serving size on a food label refers to how much they should eat. The researchers also found that the increased serving sizes on the proposed Nutrition Facts label can lead people eat more and purchase more food.

Uh oh! This is troubling, especially in a society where many of us already eat too much.

The researchers write, “We found that people misinterpret serving size information, with the vast majority of consumers incorrectly believing that the serving size refers to how much can/should be consumed.”

Lead author Steven Dallas, a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Stern School of Business wrote me the following in an email message: “Our research shows that the increased serving sizes of the proposed label lead consumers to serve more food for themselves and others. Since excessive consumption is a key contributor to obesity, this is a worrisome effect of the proposed label.”

Results of this study confirm that consumers may incorrectly view serving sizes as recommendations. Hopefully, FDA will take these findings into account when finalizing its serving-size rulings for the new food labels.

The authors conclude in their paper, “FDA should be encouraged to consider ways to correct this misinterpretation, such as by mandating the addition of a serving size definition to the proposed Nutrition Facts label. The definition could inform consumers that the serving size refers to how much of the product a typical person consumes in one sitting, and does not refer to how much of the product can be healthily consumed in one sitting.”

I agree!

In my comments last year to FDA on the proposed serving-size change, I suggest that FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations. I wrote, ” I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the new proposed serving sizes.

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FDA to update food label serving sizes

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “FDA to update food label serving sizes.”

You can also read it HERE.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is seeking public comment on the proposed revisions to the food labels (NOTE: deadline August 1).

You can still comment on the following:

1. Serving Sizes: Docket FDA-2004-N-0258

2. Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label: Docket FDA-2012-N-1210

Below are my comments on FDA’s proposal to update the serving sizes.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Re: Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments; Docket No. FDA-2004-N-0258 (Formerly Docket No. 2004N-0456)

Dear Commissioner Hamburg:

I strongly support the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain food and beverage products. I have been researching trends in growing portion sizes as well as educating clients and students on understanding information about food label serving sizes and the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and weight management.

Below I make the following points:

I. I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain products;
II. FDA should revise serving sizes for additional foods;
III. FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations.
IV. FDA should require that serving size information be displayed in ounces instead of gram weights.
I appreciate the chance to comment. I urge FDA to expeditiously finalize this rule, as well as the companion proposal regarding revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel.

I. I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs) for certain products.

I strongly support the FDA’s proposal to revise the serving size for certain foods and beverages to reflect the way Americans eat today. Labels that list the nutrition information for outdated serving sizes may be deceptive to consumers, and I commend FDA for its recognition of the need to revise the RACCs for specific foods. I also commend FDA’s proposal to require that packaged foods and drinks typically consumed in one sitting be labeled as a single serving, and that manufacturers declare the calorie and nutrient information for the entire package.

As FDA notes, the original RACCs were established using U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey data from 1977-1978 and 1987-1988. Consumption patterns have changed over the past few decades. For example, on average, American adults aged 20 and older consumed 240 more calories per day in 2009-2010, when compared to levels in 1971-1975, mostly due to increased portion sizes of foods and beverages.

The portion sizes of commonly consumed foods have increased considerably since the late 1970s; one reason for the increase in obesity rates may be that people are eating larger food portions, and therefore, more calories. The trend toward growing portion sizes has been observed for packaged foods and drinks as well as energy dense foods served in the highest selling takeout places, restaurants and fast-food outlets. Many food portions are now two to five times larger than their original size.

II. FDA should revise serving sizes for additional foods.

Using consumption data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), 2003-2008, the agency proposes to modify an existing RACC if the median consumption increased or decreased by at least 25 percent, compared to the RACC established in 1993. The FDA states that it also took into account other factors when deciding to modify an existing RACC, including information from citizen petitions, industry comments, and market trends. I urge the FDA to consider:

• Pegging the proposal to set new RACCs only for changes of 25 percent or greater neglects some categories that deserve re-evaluation due to their impact on public health. Under the law, FDA is required to define the reference amounts for foods based on the amount of food customarily consumed. See Pub. L. 101.9(b)(1); 58 F.R. 44039 et seq. Therefore, I urge FDA to update the RACCs based on actual food consumption data as opposed to allowing for a 25% or greater change

III. FDA should pro-actively address concerns about the possible unintended consequence that some consumers view serving sizes as portion recommendations.

I recognize that the RACCs used to calculate serving sizes are required to be based on the amount of food people customarily consume, and are not recommended amounts of food to eat. However, given the likelihood of confusion among some consumers, I strongly recommend that the FDA include clarifying language on the label by either: 1) denoting the serving size provided as a “typical” serving size or 2) including a footnote to clarify that “the serving size is based upon the amount typically consumed, and is not a recommended portion size.”
Other ideas for communicating a similar distinction should also be tested in consumer research by the agency. I also support additional education efforts to increase consumer understanding of the meaning of the change in serving sizes, as FDA suggests in its proposal.

IV. FDA should require that serving size information be displayed in ounces
instead of gram weights.

From my experience as an educator and clinician, few people understand the meaning of gram weights, as we do not rely on the metric system in the U.S. While I applaud listing food amounts in common household measures ( cups, tablespoons) as well, I urge the FDA to require that serving size information be displayed in ounces instead of gram weights. The term “ounces” as opposed to “grams” is used by USDA’s MyPlate.gov and is also more easily recognizable to US citizens.

References

Food and Drug Administration, Food Labeling; Serving Sizes, Jan. 6, 1993, 58 FR 2229, at 2236-2237.

Ford ES, Dietz WH, “Trends in energy intake among adults in the United States: findings from NHANES. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:848-53.

Young LR , Nestle M. Reducing Portion Sizes to Prevent Obesity: A Call to Action. Am J Prev Med 2012;43:565-568.

Young LR, Nestle M. The contribution of increasing portion sizes to the obesity epidemic. Am J Pub Health 2002;92:246-249.

Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. JAMA 2003;289:450-453.

Young LR. The Portion Teller Plan. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, Random House, 2005.

Young LR, Nestle M. Expanding portion sizes in the US marketplace: Implications for nutrition counseling. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103:231-234.

Food and Drug Administration, Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One-Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments, Mar. 3, 2014, 79 FR 11990, at 12008 (hereinafter, 79 FR at _______).

Juan W, “Memorandum to file: Consumption estimates for foods for infants and children 1 through 3 years of age and for the general food supply for individuals ages 4 years and older in the United States by general category and product category using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2008 (NHANES 2003-2008) compared to the 1993 RACCs, and Proposed Changes to RACCs.” Feb. 11, 2014.

79 FR at 12007.

US Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. Washigton, 2011. www.choosemyplate.gov

Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, CDN

Author, The Portion Teller Plan (www.portionteller.com)
Nutrition Consultant/Registered Dietitian in private practice
Adjunct professor of nutrition, Dept of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

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Federal serving sizes exceed typical portions: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Federal serving sizes differ from typical portion: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

As a portion-size researcher, I have been tracking trends in growing food portions and how they compare to federal standards. As I have written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and demonstrated in my research papers, food portions have increased considerably over the past 50 years, continue to increase despite public health messages urging us to eat less, and greatly exceed federal standards. In addition to the implications for obesity that larger portions have (big portions contain more calories than small portions and can lead to weight gain), educating consumers on how to relate typical portions to federal standards has become increasingly more difficult.

Now, new research commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) of the U.K. has found that typical portions have changed over the past 20 years and the European guidance on portion sizes is out of date. The U.K. government has recommended that the food industry display per portion values on the front of a package label for calories, fat, sugar and salt. However, according to the new research, the information on the food labels are no longer based on realistic serving sizes.

The researchers write,

The portion size of several products — including single serve packets of crisps, portions of corn flakes and cheddar cheese — are all identical to the information provided twenty years ago…
However, this pattern is not reflected across the products analyzed as a whole, with some showing considerable growth since 1993. In particular, certain bread products and all of the ready meals analyzed showed substantial growth in portion size — as much as 98 percent for one ready meal.

The researchers also note that consumers are confused about portion sizes. Consumers tend to eat bigger portions and overestimate how much they should actually be eating.

As Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the BHF writes “Our research shows there is no meaningful understanding of what is an appropriate portion size. The size of some portions has doubled, while others are so varied between different suppliers and manufacturers that trying to make comparisons is nigh on impossible.”

Like the U.K. researchers found, my research found that U.S. portion sizes differ drastically from federal standards.

For example, while the serving size of pasta on a food label is one cup, most people eat a lot more than that. Indeed, a restaurant portion of pasta is around three cups. And, when making a peanut butter sandwich, how many people actually scoop out the two-tablespoon serving size that the food label suggests?

However, it is a complicated issue.

As I discussed in a thoughtful Q&A with Food Navigator about the portion problem with food labels of packaged foods in the U.S.:

“While unrealistically small serving sizes can make unhealthy products appear in a more favorable light, simply making serving sizes bigger to reflect what people eat is not without it’s own risks.”

As I further explained, “Current serving sizes used for food labels were based on what people reported eating decades ago and we all know that what people say they eat and what they actually eat are two different things, so it makes sense to look at them again. However, if you make the serving sizes too large to reflect what many people are likely to eat, the risk is that people will think the government is telling me I can eat more.”

As summarized in a paper I co-authored with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine “federal standards bear little relationship to typical marketplace portions.”

And complicating the problem in the U.S., the FDA sets standards for food labels and the USDA sets standards for dietary guidance and education. These standards are smaller than typical portions, differ from one another, and may be creating more confusion. As we suggest, “One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.”

So, until the federal government (both in the U.S. and the U.K.) addresses the portion distortion issue, what is the take home message for consumers? I advise clients that I counsel that referring to the serving size information on package labels can be educational but should be looked at with a critical eye.

Here are some tips.

1. Do not assume that the serving size information listed is what you will actually eat.

Reading serving size information can be very educational, if you pay close attention to the actual size (weight or volume) listed on the label. The label will tell you, for example, that if you eat a three quarters of a cup of cereal, it will contain 100 calories. However, if you eat double that amount, you will need to recognize that you are actually eating double the calories as well. Sounds like common sense, but for many of us, it does not register that bigger portions contain more calories.

2. Pay close attention to the number of servings per container or per package.

Even if you eat an entire muffin or candy bar that appears to be marketed for one person, the information on the serving size often states that it contains multiple servings.

3. Use visuals to help you estimate your serving size.

One cup of pasta is the size of a baseball. Two tablespoons peanut butter is the size of a walnut in a shell. Three ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Becoming familiar with visuals can help you eyeball standard serving sizes so that you can then compare these servings to how much you actually eat. Because most of us can visualize common objects it’s a great way to keep portions in check. It makes you think about how much food you’re piling on your plate.

Here is my visual guide to eyeballing serving sizes.

• Nuts, quarter cup = golf ball
• Salad dressing or olive oil, two tablespoons = shot glass
• Peanut butter, two tablespoons = walnut in a shell
• Ice cream, half cup =half baseball
• Cheese, two ounces = eight dice
• Pasta or rice, one cup = baseball
• Oil, one teaspoon = water-bottle cap
• Meat, fish, or poultry, three ounces = deck of cards
• Bread, one ounce slice = CD case

4. Don’t snack out of a jumbo bag.

Familiarize yourself with the serving size on the food label, pour yourself one serving, and put the bag away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats

5. Don’t be fooled by health halos and health claims on package labels.

Just because a food is labeled organic, gluten free, or low-fat doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are calories!

6. Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies.

You can’t go wrong by adding more fresh fruits and veggies that do not bear package labels to your plate. Eat an apple as a snack, add fresh berries to your yogurt, and fill half of your dinner plate with fresh vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories and rich in nutrients so you can eat more without worrying too much about gaining weight.

7. Avoid your trigger foods.

If you can’t stop at one serving of chips or pretzels, then don’t even buy it. Choose a treat you can control and portion out.

8. Pay attention to how hungry you actually are and what else you are eating throughout the day.

9. Remember, you don’t need to eat the whole thing.

10. And finally, less is more!

As I often highlight in my talks, “What kind of sandwich isn’t fattening?” My answer: “half a sandwich.”

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